Today, mental health, thankfully, is more widely understood as a vital aspect of overall well-being. It impacts our emotional, psychological, and social functioning. However, for neurodivergent individuals, who possess unique neurological differences such as autism, ADHD, or dyslexia, prioritizing mental health is crucial. In a society that often misunderstands or stigmatizes neurodivergent conditions, it is essential to foster an environment that supports their mental well-being. The term neurodiversity collectively refers to EVERYONE in the room, how they think learn and process information. We all have certain characteristics that can be identified as part of a diagnostic criteria of a neurodivergent condition, for example ‘social struggles’ and autism, or ‘lots of energy’ and ADHD, however it is the severity and co-occurring differences of how they affect your everyday life that would meet the criteria for a diagnosis. Unfortunately, due to many factors, neurodivergent individuals are commonly more affected by poor mental health and for greater periods of time. This article will shed light on how companies can address and support mental wellbeing for neurodivergent individuals.
Neurodivergence is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of neurological variations. These differences contribute to diverse cognitive abilities, communication styles, and processing patterns. Neurodiversity is a natural variation of the human brain – mimicking other natural variations such as hair colour. Although conditions within the neurodiversity paradigm affect each individual differently, so does the severity of conditions. For others, they are ‘disabled’ by society’s barriers and exclusions placed before them.
Neurodivergent individuals often face unique challenges that can impact their mental health. Social exclusion, sensory overload, difficulties with communication and executive functioning, and heightened sensitivity to environmental stimuli are just a few examples. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding neurodivergence can exacerbate these challenges, leading to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, and anxiety, research supports this in a minority stress study (Botha el al., 2020).
There are positive ways that we as a society and as employers, managers and co-workers can do to take responsibility collectively to promote mental wellbeing among all employees.
Education and Awareness: Increasing public knowledge and understanding of neurodivergence is crucial in fostering a supportive environment. Education reduces stigma and addresses unconscious bias; it helps people appreciate the unique strengths and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals and characteristics of conditions.
Accessible Mental Health Resources: Ensuring that mental health services are accessible and tailored to the specific needs of neurodivergent individuals is essential. This includes providing sensory-friendly spaces, offering accommodations for communication differences, and training mental health professionals in neurodiversity-informed approaches. There also needs to be focus on mental wellbeing, as often when it reaches the stages of intervention, too much harm has been caused to the individual.
Self-Advocacy and Empowerment: Encouraging neurodivergent individuals to become self-advocates and providing them with tools to express their needs and preferences can significantly improve their mental well-being. Empowering individuals with self-advocacy skills helps build self-confidence, resilience, and a sense of control over their lives.
Building Supportive Networks: Establishing supportive networks or internal mentorships is vital for neurodivergent individuals. Peer support groups, online communities, and mentoring programs can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. Sharing experiences, challenges, and coping strategies within these networks can offer valuable emotional support.
Embracing Strengths and Accommodations: Recognising and harnessing the unique strengths and talents of neurodivergent individuals fosters a positive sense of identity. Being accommodating such as providing flexible work schedules, alternative communication methods, and sensory support can enable individuals to thrive in various environments.
Mindfulness and Coping Strategies: Teaching mindfulness and coping strategies tailored to the specific needs of neurodivergent individuals can enhance their mental resilience. Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, sensory grounding, and structured routines can help manage anxiety and sensory overload – I personally recommend the app The Zensory for support in this area.
Holistic Approaches: Promoting holistic well-being through physical exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep is beneficial for mental health. Engaging in activities that cater to personal interests, such as arts, music, or nature, can provide outlets for self-expression and relaxation.
Reducing Environmental Stressors: Creating sensory-friendly environments that minimize overwhelming stimuli can significantly improve the mental well-being of neurodivergent individuals. This includes reducing noise levels, providing comfortable spaces for breaks, and using visual supports to enhance organisation and clarity.
Holly Foxcroft is the Head of Neurodiversity in cyber research and consulting at Stott and May Consulting. Holly is an international speaker and thought leader in neurodiversity and cyber, which many accolades and awards in her commitment to supporting organisations to be more neuroinclusive.
If you would like more information on supporting your organisation to be more neuroinclusive, please email Holly.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Botha, M., & Frost, D. M. (2020). Extending the Minority Stress Model to Understand Mental Health Problems Experienced by the Autistic Population. Society and Mental Health, 10(1), 20–34. https://doi.org/10.1177/2156869318804297
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